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100

B. POLEVOI

triangles, the addresses written in an irregular, aged hand,
and several in the familiar envelopes like those he always
kept in his tunic pocket. His face beamed when he saw
those envelopes and he made a movement to free his hand
from the blanket.                                      ^
"Are these from a girl?" inquired the meteorological
sergeant" sadly, blushing again, while tears came to her
eyes and glued her long, bronze eyelashes together.
Meresyev realised that he had not imagined those words
during the explosions, and realising this, dared not tell
the truth.
"From my married sister. She has a different surname
now," he answered, feeling disgusted with himself.
Voices were heard above the roar of the engine. The
side door opened and a surgeon, a stranger wearing a
white smock over his greatcoat, boarded the plane.
"One of the patients is here already? Good!" he said,
looking at Meresyev. "Bring the other one in. We'll be
off in a minute. And what are you doing here, Madame?"
he inquired, gazing through his vapour-dimmed spectacles
at the "meteorological sergeant" who was trying to hide
behind Yura. "Please go, we'll be off in a minute. Hey!
Put the stretcher in!"
"Write, for God's sake write, I will wait!" Alexei heard
the girl whisper.
Assisted by Yura, the surgeon hauled into the plane
a stretcher on which somebody was moaning softly. As
it was being fixed into its sockets, the sheet with which it
was covered slipped down and Meresyev saw Kukushkin's
face, contorted with pain. The surgeon rubbed his hands,
looked round the cabin, and patting Meresyev on the
stomach, said:
"Fine, excellent! A fellow-passenger-to keep you com-
pany, young man. What? And now, all those not flying
leave the plane, please! So that Lorelei with the sergeant's
stripes has gone, eh? Good! Let's start! ..."
Yura seemed reluctant to go. The surgeon finally
pushed him out. The door was closed, the plane shuddered,
started, hopped and then quietly and smoothly soared into
its native element accompanied by the regular beat of the
engines. The surgeon, holding on to the wall, went up to
Meresyev.